Inerrancy of Scripture



Regarding the inerrancy of scripture William B. Evans explains it very well:

Having discussed what inerrancy is, we also need to note what it is not. That is, the doctrine is sometimes misunderstood, and all too often a caricature of the doctrine is attacked. Five persistent misconceptions may be mentioned here.

First the Bible's view of inspiration is not a sort of mechanical "dictation theory." Such theories we rightly associate with the Book of Mormon and the Muslim view of the Qur'an. By contrast, the Christian view of inspiration involves a proper recognition of the genuinely human element in Scripture, and so as students of the Bible we strive to understand the historical context of the biblical writings and the characteristics of the human authors. To be sure, there are isolated examples of dictation, such as the giving of the Ten Commandments, but that is not the usual mode of inspiration.

Second, the doctrine of inerrancy does not require that we impose upon the Bible standards of accuracy and evaluation that are alien to it. That is to say, inerrancy does not mean that everything in the Bible has to be stated with scientific precision. Sometimes the biblical writers have chosen to present truth in an impressionistic fashion. For example, in John 6:1 we read, "After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee." But at the end of John 5 Jesus is still in Jerusalem, and John does not bother to tell us how Jesus got to Galilee or which "other side" of the lake is referenced. Moreover, it has long been recognized (since the second century AD, in fact) that the Gospel writers did not necessarily present the events of Jesus' ministry in precise chronological order. In short, we must allow the biblical writers to present the material in the way they deemed best under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Third, the doctrine of inerrancy does not require the Bible to have been transmitted without mistakes in the copying process. Before the invention of the printing press manuscripts and books had to be copied by hand, and scribes sometimes made mistakes in copying. Though in general the biblical manuscripts were transmitted with great care, we do see some evidence of scribal mistakes. For the most part, these manuscript differences are inconsequential and even trivial, and no major doctrines of the Christian faith are placed in jeopardy by such findings. The branch of biblical studies that deals with these matters is called "textual criticism," and many Evangelical scholars with a high view of Scripture have made important contributions in this field. Because of the issues raised by textual criticism, we speak of the inerrancy of the Bible "in the original autographs"--that is, as the books were originally written by the human authors and not as they were subsequently transmitted. It is popular in some circles to mock this notion of "inerrancy in the original autographs." Some claim that because we obviously do not have the original autographs available to us now, this doctrine presents meaningless claims that conveniently cannot be disproved. But our reference to the "original autographs" is not an attempt to shield Scripture from scrutiny or to "prove" the inerrancy of the Bible. Rather, it is simply a faith statement seeking to do justice both to what the Bible claims for itself and to the findings of textual criticism. That being said, we are also assured of God's providential care for his Word and that the message has been preserved.

Fourth, when properly understood the doctrine of inerrancy does not entail the necessity of rational proof that the Bible is without error. It does not make the infallible truth of Scripture hang on our human ability to prove its veracity. Though Evangelical scholars certainly may present solutions to so-called "Bible difficulties" (see, e.g., Gleason Archer, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties [1982]) such efforts are best understood as efforts at "faith seeking understanding"--we affirm the truth of God's word on the basis of what Scripture teaches, and then we seek to understand and explain the form that inerrancy takes in specific passages. At the same time, we also recognize in proper humility that we lack the data needed to solve all such apparent problems.

Finally, the doctrine of inerrancy does not close off interpretive discussion. Some people reject the doctrine of inerrancy because they think it restricts us to particular disputed interpretations of Scripture, such as a literal interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1 or a particular view of God's sovereignty. But it is quite possible for people with equally high views of the inspiration and authority of the Bible to disagree on the interpretation of individual texts. While there are certainly some interpretations that compromise the authority of God's word (e.g., the suggestion that Paul's views on women were those of a sexist Rabbi, and that we should reject them) and some interpretations that are simply mistaken, we must make a practical distinction between the authority of the Bible and the interpretation of the Bible. The fact that the Bible itself is without error does not mean that our interpretations are inerrant. Once again, an appropriate humility is essential.

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